One of the biggest fears I had during my first pregnancy was how my postpartum hormones would affect me once my baby was born.
I’d heard a variety of stories from friends about how postpartum hormones affected them. Some said that their hair fell out in clumps, more reported their energy was zapped, and some revealed that they had no interest in sex for months!
In nursing school, I was taught that one of the biggest factors that influenced how one responded to postpartum hormones was genetics. While I hadn’t heard a lot of negative comments from my mom or aunts about their experiences after pregnancy, I did know that my maternal grandmother seriously struggled in this area.
My grandmother suffered from postpartum depression and tragically passed away when her sixth child was less than a year old. This was something I knew about growing up, but it was rarely talked about, and it wasn’t until I was older that I learned the actual reason behind my grandmother’s death. Her depression was a known issue that seemed to worsen with each pregnancy, and while she had sought help for it in her later pregnancies, it eventually became too much to handle.
As you can guess, I didn’t know what this post-pregnancy period would be like for me, but I was bound and determined to do all I could to keep my body and mental state in healthy working order. That meant feeding my body healthy foods, getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, minimizing toxins in my life, understanding how my hormones would fluctuate, and supporting my body through and beyond pregnancy with high-quality herbs and supplements.
In this article, I’d like to share 5 lessons I learned about postpartum hormones over the course of my four pregnancies, as well as some DIY herbal remedies the postpartum mama can use to help support her body during this time of life. But first, let’s look briefly at how hormones fluctuate during the postpartum period as well as some common postpartum hormone-related complaints.
Understanding Postpartum Hormones
Hormones are associated with the nervous and endocrine systems of the body. These systems work in conjunction to produce and release hormones as needed. Hormones control a lot of functions in your body (Hoffmann, 2003), especially those occurring during and after pregnancy.
Postpartum hormone fluctuation is perfectly normal even though it can leave you feeling like you’re on an emotional roller coaster! Some hormones are dropping (like estrogen and progesterone) while others are increasing (like prolactin) and some remain at stable levels for months after birth (like relaxin) (Brown, 2003).
After delivery, estrogen and progesterone levels drop suddenly, putting your body into a menopausal-like state. This can lead to hot flashes, low energy, hair loss, dry skin, low libido, and depression (Hooper, 2017).
The good news is that after delivery, your hormones slowly begin to regulate themselves, getting back to their normal balanced state (Brown, 2003). If you’re breastfeeding, this can prolong your “postpartum menopause” as prolactin (another hormone that regulates breast milk production) can cause these hormones to take a bit longer to level out (Hooper, 2017).
Now that you have had a brief overview of what’s going on with your hormones after delivery, let me share 5 lessons I’ve learned about this topic over the course of four pregnancies as well as some lifestyle and herbal tips to help you when it comes to balancing your hormones naturally.
5 Lessons Learned About Postpartum Hormones
Lesson #1: Just Because You’re No Longer Pregnant Doesn’t Mean You Can Quit Being Healthy
So you mean I can’t eat an entire package of Oreos just because I gave birth?
Remember all that hard work you did to be healthy during pregnancy? Well just because you’ve delivered your baby doesn’t mean it’s time to give it up — not yet, at least. The postpartum period is an extension of pregnancy, and it’s just as important to take care of yourself during this time as it is while your baby is in the womb.
Remember that everything you eat has a direct impact on your body, including your hormones. The more you nourish your body with healthy foods, the better it will function and the better you will feel. Eating a nutrient-dense diet that contains sufficient macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) can provide your body with the resources it needs to function during this demanding time.
Seed cycling is a great way to promote hormone balance in the postpartum period through nutritional means. Seed cycling incorporates different seeds into the diet at specific points in the menstrual cycle. These seeds carry certain nutrients that are thought to help support the body’s production, release, and metabolism of hormones.
Exercise will continue to be important during the postpartum period, but the key is to take it slow and not to overdo it.
Walking is one of the best exercises you can do at this point. Walking can not only help you gently lose baby weight, but it can help prevent or manage certain health conditions, strengthen bones and muscles, improve your mood, and improve your balance and coordination (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).
Yoga is also a great exercise for postpartum mamas, not just for their bodies but for the mind, too! Some benefits of yoga include a better body image, mindful eating habits, healthy weight, and support for multiple body systems (Harvard Health Publishing, 2015).
Keeping your body free of as many toxins as possible will continue to be important in the postpartum period. Toxins not only wreak havoc on your hormones, but they can be passed onto baby through breastmilk (Harvard School of Public Health, 2015) so it’s important to do what you can to minimize toxins in your environment.
Now don’t let this discourage you from nursing your baby. Breastfeeding is still the healthiest way to feed your baby, and when it comes to toxins, breast milk contains fewer toxins than most formulas and even the air we breath (Kam, 2016)! The point is this — minimizing toxins in your environment can be one piece of the puzzle that can help guide your body in naturally balancing its hormones.
Lesson #2: Baby Blues Are More Normal Than Not
After my first baby was born, while labor and delivery did not go as I had planned (ha!), the postpartum period was a breeze. I had energy, nursing seemed to be going well, and I was in a state of euphoria. I did notice I felt a little sad, more like overwhelmed, at dusk because I was concerned my little guy wouldn’t sleep well, which meant I wouldn’t sleep well, but this only lasted a few days. Thankfully, this part of my postpartum experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.
When it comes to the baby blues, it’s estimated that 60-80% of women get them in the first week after their baby is born. If it lasts longer than a couple weeks and interferes with a mother’s ability to care for herself or her child, it’s diagnosed as postpartum depression (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.) and is managed in a couple different ways. Thankfully, when it comes to postpartum mood swings, there are some natural things you can do after your baby is born to help you during this time of low hormones.
After delivery is also not the time to stop taking your prenatal vitamins. It’s recommended that you continue taking vitamin supplements for at least 3 months after giving birth in order to fill in any gaps where your diet is lacking. Beyond prenatals, vitamin D3/K2 and magnesium are two other supplements you may want to have on hand.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that has been shown to activate genes that regulate the release neurotransmitters that affect brain function and development (Eyles, Brown, Mackay-Sim, McGrath, & Feron, 2003), and researchers have found vitamin D receptors located in certain regions of the brain that are also linked to depression (Eyles, Smith, Kinobe, Hewison, & McGrath, 2005). In a 2017 study, participants with mild-to-moderate depression were shown to have improved symptoms in as little as two weeks after taking magnesium on a daily basis (Tarleton, Littenberg, MacLean, Kennedy, & Daley, 2017).
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do to help your hormones balance back out after giving birth. I know, I know — you just had a baby. What’s sleep, right? Right. Sort of.
Because sleep is so important, I believe it’s best to do whatever you can to get as much sleep as possible. Whether it’s sleeping whenever your baby naps, hiring a sitter or having friends or family members help out, or working towards getting your baby in a good routine, sleep is a priority for postpartum mamas.
Herbal nervines and certain sedatives can also be incorporated here if you need them. We’ll talk more about these herbs below.
One of the best things I ever did as a parent was to establish flexible routines in my home. Not strict routines that were smothering, but routines that worked for me and my baby and made the postpartum period easier. By working with my baby’s natural sleep-wake cycles and doing things in a particular order each day, I was able to know what to expect as was my baby. This made the postpartum period and beyond much easier for us both.
Lesson #3: Self-Care & Asking For Help Is A Must
One of the best things I experienced after the birth of each of my children was the help and support I received from friends and family. Not only did my husband take a week off work to be with me, but my mom came over to clean my house, church members brought meals so I didn’t have to cook, and friends sent cards and gifts to let me know they were thinking of me. All of this support went a long way in easing any stress I felt after my babies were born.
Taking time for a nice hot bath is one of my favorite forms of self-care. In the postpartum period, baths and natural skin care pampering went a long way to help me find some “me time.” Once baby was fed and settled in with dad, I’d sneak off to the bathroom for some time to myself. Oftentimes, I’d soak in herbal bath water, listen to some soothing music, and read a good book. After an hour or so, I felt relaxed, rejuvenated, and mentally ready for the next 24 hours.
ASKING FOR HELP
I know, I know. You’re a new mom, and you want to have this whole “mom thing” under control. However, asking for help goes a long way, especially during the postpartum period And trust me — asking friends or family for occasional help will make them feel needed and involved and won’t be a bother to them in the least.
So what should you ask help with? Ask friends to come over and watch a movie or have a meal just to spend time with you and take your mind off all the new responsibilities you have. Ask family members if they’d like to babysit for a few hours so you can have some time with your partner or to yourself. Ask your partner if he can help out at night so you can get some extra sleep.
Because sex hormones are at a low point during this time, taking care of yourself and having help can go a long way in making the postpartum period a smoother transition.
Lesson #4: Supplements Can Fill In The Gaps
While I touched on supplements a little earlier, I’m going to expand on it a bit more here. Three common supplements that can help with hormone fluctuations during the postpartum period include prenatal vitamins, herbs, and even encapsulated placenta supplements.
As I mentioned earlier, the more you can nourish your body through a healthy diet, the better it will be at regulating itself and getting back into a balanced state of health. However, this isn’t always possible. Prenatal vitamins, along with the added vitamin D3 and magnesium, can help fill in any nutritional gaps you may have.
Herbal supplements can be a great help during the postpartum period. After each of my deliveries, my husband would make me a cup of hot chamomile tea before bed to help me relax and sleep. Even now, if he smells chamomile, it takes him back to those early days as a parent! Talk about scent memories in action!
When it comes to using herbs to help balance hormones during the postpartum period, hormonal modulators and adaptogens can be a great place to start.
In my opinion, hormonal modulators are one of the best groups of herbs to use during the postpartum period simply because hormones are in serious need of regulation during this time! Hormonal modulators help to balance sex hormones whether they’re deficient or in excess (Hoffmann, 2003). One of the most used hormonal modulators is chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus), and while it’s not quite known just how this herb works to balance hormones, there is plenty of anecdotal and scientific evidence to support its effectiveness (Herbal Academy, n.d.).
Adaptogens are another group of herbs that can be very beneficial during the postpartum period due to their actions on the endocrine system as a whole. Adaptogen herbs work in a variety of ways to help the body adapt to and protect itself from the effects of stressors in our environment. And after the stress of labor and delivery, adaptogens can be very fitting indeed! Some great adaptogen herbs include holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), and schisandra (Schisandra chinensis).
Placenta encapsulation is another supplement you may want to look into. While this isn’t something I have personal experience with, my midwife did recommend it to help balance postpartum hormones after giving birth.
Many animals instinctively eat their placenta after giving birth, and supposedly, when humans do this (consumed in pill form), it’s supposed to help with balancing those postpartum hormones as well.
While few studies have been done on placenta encapsulation, most of those that do exist show positive benefits to this practice and no negative health effects have been reported.
If this is something you’re interested in learning more about, here are two great articles that explain this process and talk about some of these studies with you (here and here). It’s also a good idea to speak with your midwife or obstetrician as well.
Lesson 5: There Is Such A Thing As Overstimulation
I first heard about overstimulation from some experienced mom friends, but I had no idea what that meant until after my first child was born. During the first six weeks after delivery, I did what most new moms do. They take it easy and let their body recover from giving birth, they spend time bonding with their new baby — working towards establishing good eating habits as well as good sleep/wake patterns, and they learn how to function in life with a new person who’s totally dependent on them for survival.
After that recovery and adjustment period, life felt like it was ready to get back to normal, especially when it came to time for other people — namely my husband. Not that he wasn’t involved during those first six weeks — he definitely was, but he was also great about giving me space and letting me figure out how to manage this new life of ours.
However, when it came time to us spending some “quality time” with each other, he was often more eager than I was, and I finally knew what my mom friends had meant by “overstimulation.” Not only was I constantly nursing my infant around the clock, but almost every other waking hour had my mind on my baby and his needs. Add to that keeping house, cooking dinner, and maintaining outside engagements (and that was back before my job was even in the picture), and I was already feeling like my plate was full. With bottomed out sex hormones, sex was often the last thing on this mama’s mind at the end of the day (or any time, for that matter)!
Thankfully, though, intimate time is a priority for both my husband and I. It’s one of many pieces of our marriage that helps it to stay strong and tightly bound. Knowing this, there were things that I incorporated into my postpartum routine to help in this area.
Now before I share these things, let me first say that doing many of the things I’ve already mentioned will go a long way in helping in the libido area. Eating healthy, taking high-quality supplements, practicing self-care, trying to get enough sleep, and using herbs will all help to balance your hormones.
One of the best libido boosters I know of is exercise. Exercise helps to release endorphins that make you feel good while decreasing anxiety and depression (Pizzorno, Murray, & Joiner-Bay, 2008). It also helps your body shape up after delivery, which is a big confidence booster in itself.
After my first baby, daily exercise was fairly easy as we did a lot of walking together. However, after two, three, and four kids — it wasn’t as easy to find time for it. It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve been able to incorporate consistent exercise back into my routine.
Besides walking, yoga is a great postpartum exercise that can help get you back into shape. Yoga incorporates both deep breathing and mindfulness — two things that are great for relaxing the mind and body as it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest part of your nervous system). Yoga is also a form of body weight training, which can help effectively burn fat and tone muscles. There are many levels of yoga so no matter how experienced you are, there’s something for you out there.
Like I mentioned in the self-care section above, taking time for yourself can go a long way to help you feel relaxed after a long day with kids, especially older kids. Incorporating things into your life that help you relax can be just what you need to boost libido a bit while your hormones level out. Whether it’s a hot bath, diffusing essential oils (this is my favorite!!), sipping a cup of relaxing herbal tea or even having a glass of wine — do what you need to do once baby is down for the evening to help you relax and get in the mood for spending some time with your partner.
Relaxant herbs are a group of herbs that can be very useful as well. These herbs tend to be very gentle in nature and can help you feel calm and relaxed after taking them. Some examples of relaxant herbs are chamomile (Matricaria recutita), linden (Tilia spp.), and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). These herbs are great when you find yourself feeling stressed and overwhelmed. They’re often used in tea or tincture form, beginning with small doses and increasing as needed.
HERBS FOR LIBIDO
If exercise and other relaxation methods aren’t enough to help boost your libido, you can always call upon the help of herbs for support.
When it comes to using herbs to boost libido, there are several different body systems that may require your attention — the nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. Using herbs that nourish and strengthen all of these systems can have a great impact on one’s libido. Because this topic is an extensive one, and there are many herbs that can help here, I’m going to leave it up to you to do more research if you wish. However, I am going to share four herbs that can be used to nourish and support these systems and help boost your libido.
- Milky oat tops (Avena sativa) and damiana (Turnera spp.) for the nervous system
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) for the endocrine system
- Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) for the cardiovascular system
- Red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) for the reproductive system
Common Postpartum Hormone Complaints & 7 Herbal DIYs For Support
So far we’ve talked about how hormones fluctuate in the postpartum period and how this fluctuation affects every woman differently. I’ve also shared five lessons I personally learned about postpartum hormones through my four pregnancies along with lifestyle and herbal tips for each one.
Now, I’d like to switch gears a bit and talk about some common postpartum hormone complaints that many women face (or worry about facing) and share some DIY herbal recipes that are specific to these complaints and can be called upon for support if you find yourself experiencing any of the following.
If you’re struggling with the baby blues or worried about struggling with it, this herbal formula from Rosemary Gladstar can help encourage balanced hormones and stable moods.
From Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar
- 2 parts chaste tree berry powder
- 2 parts dandelion root powder (Taraxacum officinale)
- 1 part dong quai powder (Angelica sinensis)
- 1 part milk thistle seed powder (Silybum marianum)
- 1 part yellow dock root powder (Rumex crispus)
- Combine herbal powders in a glass bowl. Mix well and encapsulate in size 00 capsules.
Take 2 capsules three times daily for 5 days. Stop for 2 days before repeating the rotation. Discontinue after 6 months.
If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep or you’re waking up in the middle of the night and are unable to go back to sleep, you may be experiencing insomnia. This combination of relaxing and sedative herbs can help to calm your mind and promote restful sleep.
Sleep Well Tincture Blend
- 3 parts passionflower tincture (Passiflora spp.)
- 2 parts skullcap tincture (Scutellaria laterifolia L.)
- 2 parts chamomile tincture (Matricaria recutita)
- 1 part valerian tincture (Valeriana officinalis)
- Combine herbal tinctures in a glass bottle with a dropper top. Label and store.
Take 30 drops when insomnia symptoms are experienced. Repeat 30 drops every 30 minutes as needed.
If you find yourself not feeling “in the mood” more often than not, try nourishing your nervous system with this herbal infusion.
- 2 parts dried oatstraw (Avena sativa)
- 1 parts dried damiana (Turnera spp.)
- 1 part dried spearmint (Mentha spicata)
- Combine herbs in a bowl and mix well. Place herbs in a glass jar for storage.
- To make an infusion, place 4 tablespoons of herbs in a quart glass jar. Fill the jar with boiled water, and let steep for 4 hours.
- Strain herbs and compost. Sweeten liquid if desired, and enjoy!
3-4 cups per day
Many women experience postpartum hair loss. Thankfully, this slows down over time as hormones balance out. In the meantime, though, drinking a nourishing herbal infusion is a good idea as it can provide the body with extra vitamins and minerals, helping the hair grow strong and thick.
Nutrient-Boosting Herbal Hair Infusion
- 2 parts dried alfalfa (Medicago farfara)
- 2 parts dried chickweed (Stellaria media)
- 1 part spearmint (Mentha spicata)
- ½ part horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
- Combine herbs in a bowl and mix well. Place herbs in a glass jar for storage.
- To make an infusion, place 4 tablespoons of herbs in a quart glass jar. Fill the jar with boiled water, and let steep for 1-4 hours.
- Strain herbs and compost. Sweeten liquid if desired, and enjoy!
3-4 cups per day for 2 weeks then take a 1 week break as continuously using horsetail can cause urinary irritation in some (Holmes, 1989).
Another downside to the postpartum period is having loose skin on your abdomen as your body works to get back to its original shape (and this, my friend, takes TIME). During this waiting period, sugar scrubs can be your best friend as they are great for the skin. They not only exfoliate dead skin cells while nourishing the body with healthy carrier and essential oils, but they stimulate blood flow to the skin which increases skin health and glow all on its own.
Shea & Vanilla Sugar Scrub
From Stacy Karen of The Body Scrub Bible
- 2 ounces Shea butter
- 1 ounce coconut oil
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Melt oils in a saucepan over low heat. Once melted, allow the oils to cool slightly.
- Once your oils have cooled slightly, add your sugars and vanilla extract. Mix well to incorporate all ingredients together well.
Massage over wet skin using small circular motions. Rinse well. Pat dry. Use as often as desired.
Low Breast Milk Supply
After my first baby was born, I had quite a bit of trouble getting him to nurse properly and getting my milk supply going. There wasn’t anything wrong with either of us. It was just a learning curve we both had to get over together. However, as time went on, I remember repeatedly wondering if he was getting enough to eat. He was regularly using the bathroom and gaining weight, but since I couldn’t see how much he ate at every feeding, I was skeptical. While things were fine on our end, for some mamas, low milk supply is a real issue. Thankfully, there are some herbal helps that can stimulate an increased milk supply in some women. If you’re struggling with a low breast milk supply, try taking the following recipe on a regular basis and see if it gives you the boost you need.
Mama’s Milk Herb Blend
- 4 parts fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
- 2 parts milk thistle (Silybum marianum)
- 2 parts anise seed (Pimpinella anisum)
- 2 parts nettle (Urtica dioica)
- 1 part alfalfa (Medicago farfara)
- 1 part red raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
- 1/2 part cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
- 1/2 part clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
- Combine herbs and store in a glass jar.
- To use in a tea, boil 8 ounces of pure water and pour over 1 tablespoon of mama’s milk herb blend. Let steep 15 minutes. Strain herbs and sweeten as desired. Drink 2-3 cups a day.
- To use as a tincture (1:4 / 40% alcohol), start with 20 drops, 4 times a day. If production hasn’t increased after 3-4 days, increase dose in 10 drop increments every 2 days. Dosages exceeding 60 drops aren’t recommended.
While many women will share common symptoms when it comes to their postpartum hormone fluctuations, everyone has a unique experience. No matter what your genetics are or how postpartum hormones have affected you in the past, there’s always a way to move forward towards natural hormone balance. Healthy lifestyle habits, nourishing supplements, and support from friends and family can go a long way to help new mamas through the postpartum period.
Learn Even More About Natural Hormone Health For Women
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- Brown, S. (2003). Nobody told me: Challenges after childbirth. [Online Article]. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=54613
- Eyles, E., Brown, J., Mackay-Sim, A., McGrath, J. & Feron F. (2003). Vitamin d3 and brain development. [Abstract]. Neuroscience, 118(3), 641-653. doi: 10.1016/S0306-4522(03)00040-X
- Eyles, D.W., Smith, S., Kinobe, R., Hewison, M. & McGrath, J.J. (2005). Distribution of the Vitamin D receptor and 1α-hydroxylase in human brain. [Abstract]. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, 29(1), 21-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jchemneu.2004.08.006.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2015). Yoga: Benefits beyond the mat. [Online Article]. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/yoga-benefits-beyond-the-mat
- Harvard School of Public Health. (2015). Breastfeeding may expose infants to toxic chemicals. [Online Article]. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/breastfeeding-may-expose-infants-to-toxic-chemicals/
- Herbal Academy. (n.d.). Chaste tree berry monograph. [Online Database]. Retrieved from https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monographs/#/monograph/2028
- Hoffman, David. (2003). Medical herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
- Holmes, P. (1989). The energetics of western herbs. Cotati, CA: Snow Lotus Press.
- Hooper, L. (2017). What happens to your hormones after having a baby. [Online Article]. Retrieved from http://www.coynemedical.com/what-happens-to-your-hormones-after-having-a-baby/
- Kam, R. (2016). Toxins in breastmilk: 6 truths to separate fact from fiction. [Online Article]. Retrieved from https://www.bellybelly.com.au/breastfeeding/toxins-in-breastmilk-6-things-you-need-to-know/
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health. [Online Article]. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/walking/art-20046261
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Postpartum depression facts. [Online Article]. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml
- Pizzorno, J.E., Murray, M.T., Joiner-Bay, H. (2008). The clinician’s handbook of natural medicine (2nd ed.). St. Louis: MO: Churchill Livingstone.
- Tarleton, E.K., Littenberg, B., MacLean, C.D., Kennedy, A.G., & Daley C. (2017). Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PLoS One, 12(6). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0180067.